Category Archives: Cooking, Entertaining, Food and Drink

Haggis And Wine: Finding The Perfect Match

by Ian Blackshaw

Haggis with neeps and tatties

It is that time of the year again – coming up to Burns’ night, celebrated on or around 25 January, the birthday of the Scottish Bard Robbie Burns – for the Blackshaw’s, who, as far as we know are not Scottish, to indulge in some Haggis!

This has become an annual ritual, although one can – and we do – enjoy Haggis at other times of the year. Having visited, at the beginning of December, my wife’s younger brother, who lives in Continue reading “Haggis And Wine: Finding The Perfect Match” »

New Year Wine Resolution: Quality Not Quantity!

by Ian Blackshaw

New Year is traditionally the time for making resolutions – and, indeed, breaking them. But, when it comes to wine, one of the pleasures of life and reputedly good for you – at least in moderation – it is not the time, if ever, to be giving it up! Chocolates, perhaps, but wine certainly not.

However, one wine resolution that is worth making – and keeping! – and one that I made some years ago and have kept ever since is to drink less but better. Unlike some of our friends in Northern France, who also enjoy wine and they know who they are, it is not a case of quantity not quality, but one of quality not quantity. And this goes for whatever your preference in wine styles – red, rose, white or sparkling. It also goes for the wine types and regions and there is so much to choose from in France. Whether, it is Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Cotes du Rhone, Loire or the Pays D’Oc, to mention but a few. But there is also a lot of poor quality wine available (‘plonk’), definitely designed to give you a hangover and serve you jolly well right!

As regular readers of my wine articles will know, I am very much a red wine person and particularly, in my opinion (and wine is very much a matter of personal taste and choice!), fond of the fine ones that come from the Bordeaux wine region.

One such example of a fine Bordelais red that has recently been released and that is well worth trying is from the Chateau de l’Orangerie. This comes from the AOC Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux wine area and is a 2007 vintage, which has been aged in oak barrels. It has an ABV of 13% and won a silver medal in the 2010 Bordeaux Wine Competition. Incidentally, I should like to know which wine won the gold medal in that Competition!

This wine will not disappoint and is made from a blend of the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grape varieties. It is a traditional claret with a fine ruby colour and a spicy after taste. It goes well with meat dishes and hearty stews and also a variety of French cheeses, including the distinctively tangy maroilles of our region. Its description as a ‘Grand Vin de Bordeaux’ is not marketing hype, but is fully justified, and the wine is very typical of its genre.

The Chateau de l’Orangerie is located in the small village of Saint Felix de Foncaude in the ‘Entre-Deux Mers’ area, and the Chateau has been in the Icard family for several centuries. The wine is produced by the present proprietor, Jean-Christophe Icard, whom I note has two sons to carry on the family tradition and is to be warmly congratulated on his fine wine-making skills!

This is a quality wine and one that does not break the bank either; so fits in very well with my New Year Resolution to drink well and go for quality not quantity!

Restaurant for December 31 ~ any suggestions?

A reader of one of our other blogs has contacted us to ask for some help with a New Years Eve problem.

“My wife and I are staying in Montreuil-sur-mer from Saturday 29th December to New Year’s Day. We’ve been trying to find somewhere to eat and see the New Year in in Montreuil or Le Touquet without having to tuck into a 5 course dinner at a gastronomic price. Do you know any brasseries or small eateries that might suit us? Merci bien pour votre assistance.”

Can any Frogsider reader suggest a place where our visiting reader might find a good meal at a reasonable price?

Please get in touch via our Frogsiders Contact Page

Christmas Pudding Wine: A Fitting End To The Christmas Dinner

by Ian Blackshaw

It is that time of the year again – the run up to Christmas when mail boxes are bombarded with supermarkets’ publicity for all kinds of Christmas fare, including wine suggestions for the festive season.

There is always a good selection of Champagnes on offer to suit all tastes and pockets, including multi-buy offers, which, incidentally, are now being outlawed in Britain in an attempt to combat and reduce binge drinking! No fear of that in France, where we are constantly reminded to drink in moderation.

But in this article, I want to put on one side my favourite tipple and recommend a good pudding wine to accompany the traditional British Christmas Pudding. This year, we are spending Christmas with friends in ‘Blighty’ and the New Year with family in France.

It is not easy to match a pudding wine with such a rich end to the traditional British Christmas dinner, but I think that a Maury from the Agly valley (inland from Perpignan) in the Roussillon wine region of South Western France will fit the bill. Maury, which was granted its ‘appellation d’origine controlee’ (AOC) status in 1936, is a fortified wine and the French equivalent of Port. It is a red wine, mahogany-coloured and made essentially from Grenache grape varieties, at least 75% of the wine being composed of Grenache Noir.

Maury: Vieille Reserve

Maury is a ‘vin doux naturel’ and is vinified in a process which is similar to that of Port, except that its initial aging is in large glass jugs, known as ‘les dames jeannes’. The wine also benefits from later aging in old oak casks for up to 15 years, as well as some bottle aging. It has an ABV of 16%.

My younger brother-in-law, who is a connoisseur of and introduced me, a number of years ago, to the delights of the Languedoc-Roussillon wines, gave me, for my Birthday last year, a couple of bottles of a 1992 ‘vieille reserve’- produced and bottled by the ‘Vignerons de Maury’ described by the celebrated Master of Wine writer, Jancis Robinson, as the finest wine co-operative in the world – and I shall be opening one of them to accompany this year’s Christmas Pudding. I cannot wait to do so and I shall open the other bottle at New Year!

So, why not try some Maury yourself and ensure a fitting and memorable end to the Christmas Dinner, with an explosion of flavours from the combination of the richness and spiciness of the pudding and the robustness of the wine, which will not fail to delight the taste buds!

Beaujolais Nouveau 2012: Worthy of a Bottle or Two

by Ian Blackshaw

The third Thursday in November has been and gone and this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau has been released on this date, according to long-standing tradition.

At one time – not so many years ago – in the UK, this annual event – one might say ritual – was eagerly awaited and the arrival of the new wine was widely feted in wine bars and restaurants, as well as promoted in shops. But, not any more. Last year, for example, only around 100,000 bottles were sold in the UK. In fact, unlike France, many supermarkets in the UK have not sold Beaujolais Nouveau for several years.

Even the producers in the Beaujolais wine region – just south of Macon and technically in Burgundy – have not been marketing and promoting the Beaujolais Nouveau as much as they did in times past, concentrating their efforts on their other products and offerings, such as Fleurie, one of the so-called 10 Beaujolais crus, the 2011 vintage being especially notable. In fact, sales of other Beaujolais wines in the UK have increased by some 50%. The Wine Society, for example, has a good range of them available in this year’s catalogue.

Although this year’s vintage has been a tricky one, because of all the wet weather, this has not dampened the spirits of those in the Beaujolais region to celebrate the arrival of the new wine.

In Lyon, for example, where the Beaujolais Nouveau is traditionally rolled out in barrels and served in 450ml pots, the release of this year’s wine has been celebrated as enthusiastically as ever. Indeed, the Nineteenth Century Parisienne writer Leon Daudet once said that ‘Lyon has three rivers, the Rhone, the Saone, and Beaujolais!’

By all accounts, this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau is quite good and it is worth buying a bottle or two. That of Georges Duboeuf is probably the one to look out for. It is light, sporting a magenta colour, a strawberry bouquet, and notes of raspberry. It has an ABV of 12%.

Whilst not, by any standards, a great wine, Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun and quaffable wine and I shall look forward to opening a bottle of this year’s version, as I usually do, at Christmas to get the festive season started! And, then, of course, on to more serious wines! In any case, Beaujolais Nouveau goes very well with left-over turkey, usually on offer on ‘Boxing Day’.

Seyssel Wine Visit: A Pleasant Surprise!

A view of the Mollex vineyards

by Ian Blackshaw

We have just spent a few pleasant days visiting our friends in the Haute Savoie, where for several years we also had a holiday chalet – in fact, we introduced them to this delightful part of France when they used to visit us and, indeed, to the region’s summer and winter pursuits.

Our visit was also an excuse – not that we really needed one! – to visit Seyssel, a short drive from Annecy, and our favourite winery; Maison Mollex, which has been producing fine white wines on south facing slopes overlooking the Rhone, which are characteristic of this beautiful alpine region, in an unbroken ‘perre a fils’ tradition since 1359.

On this visit, we met the latest – I do not know how many times – great /great grandson of the founders, who is now carrying on the family tradition and running the winery. Rather a dour individual, like many men from the mountains, and one who needs to hone some PR skills like his father and grandfather!

For many years, we have bought and enjoyed their ‘La Tacconiere’ produced from the grape variety indigenous to and characteristic of the Seyssel AOC region: Altesse (also known as Roussette) with its distinctive floral notes, such as iris and violet. In fact, it was due to the efforts of Ernest Mollex that Seyssel was granted its AOC status in 1942!

Also, for an equally long time, we have been trying to get a bottle or two of their ‘Clos de la Paclette’ a more complex and subtle wine with more acidity, which gives it quite a refreshing bite on the palate. Previously, this wine has been reserved for sales to hotels and restaurants and was not available for general purchase. But what a pleasant surprise to find that now it is possible to buy up to six bottles of this wine (perhaps a sign of the present economic times in which less people in France are eating out and taking holidays), which, of course, we duly did! Even more satisfying, we were offered an extra bottle as a gift in lieu of a remise on our overall purchase of their wine!

Needless to say, we shared a bottle with our friends, who also very much enjoyed it!

The Seyssel wines are quite versatile and may be drunk by themselves as an aperitif or with fish and white meats, such as chicken and veal, which are very much in abundance in this beautiful alpine region.

Needless to say, we enjoyed our visit to our friends, even more so because all the Autumn colours were shown off to their very best effect in the warm sunshine with which we were greatly blessed during our time there!

The Chinese Are At It Again – This Time It Is Chateau d’Yquem!

by Ian Blackshaw

1996 Chateau d'Yquem - a light colour

The Chinese are into French wines in a big way, especially the fine Bordelais and Bourgogne reds, which I have reported on in previous wine articles for ‘Frogsiders’. Even if the Chinese do not fully appreciate them, taste-wise, they buy them and drink them as a status symbol to show that, financially speaking, they have arrived and made it. This is especially true of the high flyers of Shanghai and Beijing, who like to flaunt their wealth and impress their business associates and friends!

The Chinese are now into Chateau d’Yquem! Until recently, this renowned sweet wine from the Sauternes, Gironde region of the southern part of the Bordeaux vineyards, known as Graves, was not allowed to be imported into China because of its sweetness, which was not considered by the Chinese Authorities to be part of a healthy lifestyle. But these rules have now been relaxed and the Chinese are taking full advantage of the situation.

Chateau d’Yquem has been officially classified in the Bordeaux wine region since 1855 as a Premier Cru Superieur (‘a great first growth’) wine and the average price of a bottle is around £100.

The wine is complex with a relatively high acidity to counterbalance its sweetness, which derives from the late harvesting of the grapes used in its production, 80% semillon and 20% sauvignon blanc, after they have been attacked by ‘noble rot’ (‘botrytis cinerea’), which is quite prevalent in the area. The production process of the wine is quite complex and takes about three years!

The darker colour of the 1959 Chateau d'Yquem

Another feature of this wine is its longevity and, with proper storage, it will keep for a century or longer. As it ages, it changes from a golden colour to a rich amber colour. An 1811 bottle of Chateau d’Yquem was sold last year to a private collector for a world record price of £75,000.
Again, as only some 65,000 bottles are produced each year, this adds to the scarcity value of the wine and this, of course, is reflected in the price that it commands.

It is very much a luxury wine – it is owned, in fact, by the French luxury goods group LVMH – and this appeals greatly to the well-heeled Chinese yuppies!

To safeguard the quality of Chateau d’Yquem and maintain its status, in a poor vintage, the wine is not produced because it is considered not to be worthy of bearing this famous and prestigious name.

I am sure that the Chinese would approve of this practice!

A Good Idea for the Kitchen


Here’s an excellent idea that Frogsiders saw last night,  We were so enthused we felt we had to bring it to the attention of all Frogsider readers.

This kitchen chopping board is made of scratch-resistant, hygienic tempered glass.  It is virtually unbreakable, heat resistant and dishwasher safe, and can be used as a cutting surface, a pastry board or a trivet to protect kitchen work surfaces from hot pans.

But its most useful features are the cooks’ conversion scales that are imprinted in the glass.  These enable instant conversions from cups, fluid ounces and Imperial (avoirdupois) ounces to the appropriate metric equivalents (or vice versa)

What a useful thing to have in the kitchen – even if you only hang it on the wall for reference!

Buy it, or get more information from Amazon by clicking this link: Typhoon Metric Conv.Work Top Protector

Blanquette de Limoux: A fine sparkler from the Pays d’Oc

by Ian Blackshaw

Blanquette de Limoux - (photo by Stephanie Watson)

My younger brother-in-law, the wine buff, and his wife have just celebrated their Ruby Wedding. He is not very keen on fizz, although he will take the odd glass of Champagne, if pressed, but his wife is and her favourite sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux from the Languedoc region of south west France, where they have spent many holidays, and this sparkler was much in evidence at their party.

Although, as readers of my wine articles will know, I prefer Champagne, which, as far as I am concerned, is the real thing, but I must say that France produces some exceptional sparklers, including Blanquette de Limoux. This is one of four AOCs of Limoux – three white and one red. Blanquette is not only the local name for the main grape variety used in these white wines, that is, Mauzac, but also means white. In fact, 15% of Mauzac must be used in the production of the wines, but also Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc may also be used. The Mauzac grape, of which there must 90% in the wine, gives Blanquette de Limoux its zesty taste and acidity, which a white wine – and particularly a sparkling one – needs. The wine also has a distinctive apple-peel flavour to it.

Abbaye Saint Hilaire - the birthplace of Blanquette de Limoux

Local wine historians believe that the world’s first sparkling wine was produced in the Languedoc region in 1531 by the Benedictine monks of Saint-Hilaire abbey. There are even claims that sparkling wine was around and traded in Roman times!

The Blanquette methode ancestrale produces a sweetish wine and is made without disgorgement – the process of releasing the yeast from the bottle which has been added to facilitate the second fermentation of the wine. This wine is produced in the same area as Blanquette de Limoux and, according the AOC rules, may only contain the Mauzac grape.

The third AOC sparkler from Limoux is the Crémant de Limoux, which is made according to the methode traditionnelle, which does involve disgorgement, and contains more Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc in the blend, which may not exceed 90%. The other 10% is made up of Mauzac and Pinot Noir. This wine is produced in more than 40 villages around the city of Limoux, which is located in the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees, south of the impressive fortified city of Carcassonne. It is a very satisfying aperitif or dessert wine, owing much its terroir.

Although, in my opinion, they are no substitute for Champagne, French sparkling wines should not be underestimated and this certainly goes for the Limoux sparklers and especially the Blanquette de Limoux, which is a fine example of them.

BOGOF Week in Restaurants 17 to 23 September

You know how the French keep inventing new Festival of this and Foire de that kind of things?  Well, apparently there’s a week called “Tous au Restaurant“, from 17 to 23 September, which is supposed to get us all rushing off to eat in a local restaurant.

Here is a link to the Tous au Restaurant web page.  Like many French websites it is not very well designed, not particularly informative at first glance, and full of exhortational wordy messages that don’t really tell you what the benefits to you, the customer, are.  For instance, “A week during which more than a thousand restaurateurs throughout France mobilise themselves for the public.”

Isn’t that what they should be doing every week?

It falls to Frogsiders, therefore, to explain, before you get too bored with wading through the French text,  that this is a BOGOF offer in a number (unfortunately a small number in our region) of restaurants throughout France.

A special menu is offered at the participating restaurants, on the basis that the second diner eats free.  You can find out which restaurants are taking part in the offer, and reserve your table, by searching on the Tous au Restaurant website.  It doesn’t necessarily tell you the price of the menu, though, or what’s on it, so you might have to phone the restaurant if you want to know more.  We found one restaurant, in Le Touquet, where the price was given as 25 euros, Monday-Friday only.

Don’t get too excited – there are two restaurants in Le Touquet, three around Boulogne, one in Calais, one near Ardres , and three in the Bethune area.  That’s about it for the Nord/Pas De Calais.

Editor’s Note:  Since writing the above final paragraph, we have found out there are, in fact, several dozen Nord/Pas De Calais restaurants taking part in the Tous au Restaurant promotion.  Here is a link to the complete alphabetical list of participating establishments.

Wine Fairs: Something For Everyone!

Intermarche Foire Aux Vins 2012

by Ian Blackshaw

It is that time of the year for the wine fairs (foires aux vins) and the Supermarket chain ‘Intermarche’, whose wines generally are very good, are holding their wine fair in their stores from 12 to 23 September. They have just published their catalogue, which makes very interesting reading indeed. They are offering a selection of reds, whites, champagnes and some pudding wines to suit all tastes and pockets.

One notable feature of this year’s selection is that many of the wines have been chosen for immediate drinking. As wine expert Michel Petitjean puts it: “Contrary to received wisdom, a bottle does not have to be lying in the cellar for several years. More and more, wines are elaborated to be drunk rapidly, taking advantage of their fruitiness and softness. The majority of consumers do not have a cave and buy their wine just before drinking it.”

Of course, amongst the reds on offer are some for laying down for 3 – 5 years or longer, such as a 2008 AOC Pauillac Grand Cru Classe from Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse (5 – 10 years), comprising a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes, at a price, reflecting its quality, of €19,95!

A.O.C.Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux Château Le Grand Moulin Collection Grande Réserve

At the other end of the scale, there is a 2009 (a very good year all round!) AOC Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux from Chateau Le Grand Moulin, comprising the classic claret trinity of cabernet sauvignon, franc and merlot grapes. This is described as a ‘bonne affaire’ at a price of €4,90 a bottle and the wine won a gold medal at the Brussels wine fair of 2011!

There is a good choice of Champagnes on offer – my favourite tipple – and one that particularly caught my eye is a brut from Veuve Barrier & Fils, described in the catalogue as ‘a crowd pleaser’, which is on sale at €12,40 a bottle. This Champagne, comprising the traditional blend of chardonnay, pinot meunier and pinot noir, is also available in demi-sec, for those – and I am not one of them – who prefer their Champagne less dry.

Amongst the pudding wines, I spotted an AOC Muscat de Rivesaltes, Croix Milhas, 2011, which the catalogue characterises as ‘almost a perfect wine’, on sale at the remarkable price of €5,75 a bottle. Its alcohol by volume is 15,5%, so it pulls no punches, and may be drunk as an aperitif; with the dessert; or with a blue cheese. Quite a versatile wine!

Another wine expert, Christophe Coppolani, recommends decanting older wines – he also, by the way, recommends decanting younger wines – to, as he says, aerate and thus bring out the best flavours and structure of the wine. Intermarche have a splendid modern 1.5 litre carafe in plain glass on sale at €24,90. They think of everything!

Indeed, there is something for everyone in this particular wine fair – and in wine fairs generally – but, from past experience, do not delay in checking it out before the best bargains are sold out!

PRESTIGIOUS GEVREY CHAMBERTIN CHATEAU FALLS INTO CHINESE HANDS!

by Ian Blackshaw

The announcement on 24 August that a Chinese gambling tycoon from Macao has bought the twelfth century Chateau of Gevrey-Chambertin and its surrounding five acres of vineyards (the purchase was actually completed in May) has sent shock waves throughout the centuries old closely-knit family-controlled Burgundy wine producing community. Quelle horreur!

To add insult to their injury and to secure his purchase, he outbid the locals by offering €8 million, twice the locally estimated value of this prestigious wine property.

Although this purchase represents a small part of the 1,000 acres of vineyards that enjoy the right to use the protected name (DOC) of Gevrey-Chambertin, the Chateau of Gevrey-Chambertin vineyards, which produce some 12,000 bottles per annum, do include some plots producing Grand Cru and Premier Cru wine, bottles of which sell for €100 or more.
The local vignerons have described the deal as an attack on their heritage. Their spokesman has likened the transaction to a purchase by the French of part of the Great Wall of China! Posing the question rhetorical question: what would the Chinese think of that?

I suppose that they fear that other purchases by the Chinese, who are into French red wine, especially bordelais chateau produced and bottled wine (for example, the excellent wine from the Chateau of Richelieu in the Fronsac wine region, which I have previously written about!) are bound to follow, despite the fact that the Chinese economy is reputedly shrinking somewhat!

The deal has certainly put the Gallic nose out of joint, although it is not expected that any harm will be done to the quality of Gevrey-Chambertin as a result of this Chinese investment. Perhaps the French should get real and realise that we are living in a global economy.

I wonder what my late mother-in-law, who loved France, French food and wine, especially Geverey-Chambertin, which was her favourite tipple and, incidentally, was also that of the Emperor Napoleon, would have thought of this development!

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